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INTERVIEW WITH A MEMBER: Al Kowsky


Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

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This week we’re gonna talk to a long time collector and a student of ancient coins. We are used to admire his numerous eagle-reverse tets, but every time he presents his new acquisitions to us we exclaim WOW ! Only one word to describe this numismatist: a real gentleman. Let’s learn more about Al Kowsky.

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, your family, hobbies, work…?

I was born in Rochester, NY on April 18, 1948 with my twin brother

Henry Jr. to Henry & Celia Kowsky. My parents have long since passed on, & my brother Henry passed on 4 years ago, leaving only my older sister Barbara & myself left from the immediate family. My father migrated from Bochum, Germany in 1932, & my mother was born in Rochester, NY from parents who migrated from the island Sicily. I have remained a bachelor all my life as did my brother Henry.

 

How did you get interested in ancient coinage ? What was the first coin you ever bought ?

I began collecting U.S. coins at 8 years old by searching through coins in circulation, & this was made easy by mom who worked as a bank teller. Every other week she would bring me rolls of unchecked coins to look at, beginning with pennies & gradually working up to silver dollars. Within 2 years I had an impressive collection & wanted to expand my horizon to world & ancient coins, so I had my father take to to local coin shows. At the second show we attended he bought me a 1873 $ 2 1⁄2 gold coin in AU condition for $30, & my first ancient coin, a denarius of Septimius Severus in near mint state for $15. My father worked with food most of his life & had his own restaurant at one time, so without surprise his hobby was cooking. Mom loved old things & began collecting antiques while brother Henry was a serious stamp collector. Mom's antique collection grew so large that my parents decided to move from Wisconsin St. to a home on East Main St. that had a small store front added to it. The store front turned into “Celia's Antiques” store. After a family visit to the Corning Museum of Glass, I became enamored with glass as an art form, put my interest in coins aside, & seriously began reading about the history of glass. The new interest in glass sparked a new collecting interest, antique glassware. Mom allowed me one showcase in the store for coins, medals, & antique glassware if I helped her in the store during weekends when customer traffic was often heavy. This was a great learning experience for me.

Shortly after graduating high school in 1966 everything changed for me. I received a draft noticed from the U.S. Army & knew I'd be going to Viet Nam. Rather than being stuck with an infantry unit I enlisted for a 3 year commitment in the U.S. Army Signal Corp. I became a Communication Center Specialist with a Secret Crypto clearance. My first set of orders was to report to the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered in Pleiku, Viet Nam. After a grueling monsoon season in the central highlands, I was able to transfer to a safer location in Dong Ba Thin, on the southern coast where I became a shotgun & courier driver. The Viet Nam experience triggered an interest in Asian art & history. I spent the last 18 months with the Army in various duty stations in Germany. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army in January 1970, I returned to Rochester & got a job with Gleason Works as a machinist doing precision boring, milling, drilling, & taping.
 

Al, can you tell us more about your antiques business ?

Not happy with that kind of work, I moved to Santa Barbara, CA to start my own business buying & selling antiques. With two partners we leased a store front & opened an antique business called “The Renaissance Shop”. Business was great until the gasoline crisis of 1974 turned into an economic recession. I returned to Rochester knowing I could get a job as a machinist again & did that work until 1980. Mom grew tired of running her antique business with little help from dad & closed the shop in 1978. After a conference with my parents, I quit my last machinist job & reopened the business in my name as “Eastside Coins & Antiques”. Pictured below is a shop poster painted by a dear friend that was used for the business in Santa Barbara, & an old advertisement for my business in Rochester. I still own the coin pictured in the advertisement.

Shopposteradvertisment.jpeg.4538e1666885a81712ef7deee745898d.jpeg

 

Along with running my new business, I began teaching continuing education classes two nights a week on antiques & collectables at Greece Olympia High School, & two nights a week at The Rochester Museum & Science Center. The heavy workload became too much for me after 6 years, so I closed the shop, stopped teaching, & did machinist work until retiring in 2010, after mom passed away. I still did some guest lecturing for groups interested in antiques. 

 

What is your favorite coin ?

I don't have a single favorite ancient coin but many, & pictured below are some of those favorites.

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3Rome.jpeg.9dd2b45eec901706364a69cd6b23a8ef.jpeg

 

3nummi.jpeg.5813f8744135042eaddf93904f41786c.jpeg

 

3solidii.jpeg.b8473cf29ed8e3b9fe4a9cb7cbf816fc.jpeg

 

3Byzantinecoins.jpeg.af197e255b73d85c3b0e4010c3b47c8a.jpeg
 

 

Many thanks for this overview of your numismatic journey. Now I would be curious to know what our reader’s favorite coins are among your collection !

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Many thanks to everyone for their kind words & especially to Ocat. for including me in this delightful series ☺️! NVMVS FORVMS is the number one website for ancient coins & I feel privileged to be part of it. Just a reminder, be sure to click each group of 3 coins for an enlarged view of the coins 😉.

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I always love to see @Al Kowsky wonderful coins, primarily for his exquisite taste at choosing awesome examples, and also because I share with him an interest for syrophenician tets. My preferred from the above selection is the Septimius Severus Prieur # 1151, followed by the Ptolemaic hockey puck

Great interview, allowing us to know you more intimately Sir !

Thanks again @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix for that brilliant series of interviews

Q

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A really interesting interview and wonderful coins. Thank you both.

I have been looking for a Marcus Junius Brutus denarius depicting him as consul walking in procession between two lictors for some time so my eye was immediately drawn to your second Thracian coin which is quite superb and this is my favourite because of a recent interest. All of your coins are so good it would be difficult to prioritise.

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As to favorites, your Ostrogothic solidus of Theodoric is much finer than my VF specimen, and I would be tempted to buy a similar one if I could it.  But for pure numismatic art, the Septimius Severus tetradrachm is a tour de force.  

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Nice to learn more about you! And of course beautiful coins...

Thought I would share an antique that you may find interesting. As I've shared already, I also grew up in Rochester, NY. I remember seeing your advertisements as a kid, though I don't believe I ever went to your store since I wasn't very interested in coins at the time (only stamps).

My parents still are in the fireworks industry and for some time I collected antique firecracker packs. 

The Rochester Fireworks Company started in 1836 per this article and in 1927 began importing fireworks from China. In 1939, the factory was converted to munitions and in 1942 there was a tremendous fire that ended it.

The company was large enough to import firecrackers and other fireworks under their own brand, but today these are extremely rare.

This is the only known firecracker pack we know of in existence.

rochester_pack.png.479c6abae5405370d01d5a677826d045.png

 

This is the only remaining label. 

rochester_label.png.543960bbe9e7a94b6812d7373d9a6721.png

They date to sometime between 1927 and 1939. As a young collector, they were my "holy grails", but even though I knew about them they were inaccessible because the collector who owned them was very private. When he passed away, they came up for auction and my father and I bid together to win both.

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What a wonderful read and incredible man! Veteran (thank you for your service), business owner, machinist, teacher, and an incredibly knowledgeable numismatist!

Thanks so much for letting us get to know you better!

Ps, that Coson stater has got to be my fav of your picks. Think they really were minted by Brutus?

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53 minutes ago, kirispupis said:

Nice to learn more about you! And of course beautiful coins...

Thought I would share an antique that you may find interesting. As I've shared already, I also grew up in Rochester, NY. I remember seeing your advertisements as a kid, though I don't believe I ever went to your store since I wasn't very interested in coins at the time (only stamps).

My parents still are in the fireworks industry and for some time I collected antique firecracker packs. 

The Rochester Fireworks Company started in 1836 per this article and in 1927 began importing fireworks from China. In 1939, the factory was converted to munitions and in 1942 there was a tremendous fire that ended it.

The company was large enough to import firecrackers and other fireworks under their own brand, but today these are extremely rare.

This is the only known firecracker pack we know of in existence.

rochester_pack.png.479c6abae5405370d01d5a677826d045.png

 

This is the only remaining label. 

rochester_label.png.543960bbe9e7a94b6812d7373d9a6721.png

They date to sometime between 1927 and 1939. As a young collector, they were my "holy grails", but even though I knew about them they were inaccessible because the collector who owned them was very private. When he passed away, they came up for auction and my father and I bid together to win both.

That's really cool. Firecracker pack collecting is not something I've heard of (beyond your occasional posts.) How large of a collecting community is it?

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2 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Nice to learn more about you! And of course beautiful coins...

Thought I would share an antique that you may find interesting. As I've shared already, I also grew up in Rochester, NY. I remember seeing your advertisements as a kid, though I don't believe I ever went to your store since I wasn't very interested in coins at the time (only stamps).

My parents still are in the fireworks industry and for some time I collected antique firecracker packs. 

The Rochester Fireworks Company started in 1836 per this article and in 1927 began importing fireworks from China. In 1939, the factory was converted to munitions and in 1942 there was a tremendous fire that ended it.

The company was large enough to import firecrackers and other fireworks under their own brand, but today these are extremely rare.

This is the only known firecracker pack we know of in existence.

rochester_pack.png.479c6abae5405370d01d5a677826d045.png

 

This is the only remaining label. 

rochester_label.png.543960bbe9e7a94b6812d7373d9a6721.png

They date to sometime between 1927 and 1939. As a young collector, they were my "holy grails", but even though I knew about them they were inaccessible because the collector who owned them was very private. When he passed away, they came up for auction and my father and I bid together to win both.

Fascinating bit of Rochester history, thanks for sharing ☺️! I remember watching the fireworks display in Rochester every 4th of July when they were held downtown at the Genesee River crossroads. One year lots of falling debris fell on us spectators because of strong winds 😮. Everyone ran for cover 🤣. City officials changed the cite location after that incident....

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2 hours ago, Ryro said:

What a wonderful read and incredible man! Veteran (thank you for your service), business owner, machinist, teacher, and an incredibly knowledgeable numismatist!

Thanks so much for letting us get to know you better!

Ps, that Coson stater has got to be my fav of your picks. Think they really were minted by Brutus?

I felt very lucky scoring that stater 😀! It's one of the few coins in my collection that I'd call FDC. There is no doubt in my mind that they were struck by a traveling mint of Brutus, especially after the research done by Calgary Coin & the Romanian Academy 😉.

Edited by Al Kowsky
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3 hours ago, Hrefn said:

As to favorites, your Ostrogothic solidus of Theodoric is much finer than my VF specimen, and I would be tempted to buy a similar one if I could it.  But for pure numismatic art, the Septimius Severus tetradrachm is a tour de force.  

                             The Severus tetradrachm is in my top 5 favorites ☺️.

acsearchCNG365lot287Prieur1151.jpg.e6497f2c45f1e05dbe81191a32d64397.jpg

 

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3 hours ago, Dafydd said:

A really interesting interview and wonderful coins. Thank you both.

I have been looking for a Marcus Junius Brutus denarius depicting him as consul walking in procession between two lictors for some time so my eye was immediately drawn to your second Thracian coin which is quite superb and this is my favourite because of a recent interest. All of your coins are so good it would be difficult to prioritise.

I was thrilled to score an example of that Brutus denarius you're referring to to go with my Koson stater ☺️.

BrutusDenariusAWKCollection.jpg.420fb821ffd2bb52534c08266182bd7c.jpg

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2 hours ago, CPK said:

That's really cool. Firecracker pack collecting is not something I've heard of (beyond your occasional posts.) How large of a collecting community is it?

It's hard to say, but it's probably a few hundred.

40 minutes ago, Al Kowsky said:

Fascinating bit of Rochester history, thanks for sharing ☺️! I remember watching the fireworks display in Rochester every 4th of July when they were held downtown at the Genesee River crossroads. One year lots of falling debris fell on us spectators because of strong winds 😮. Everyone ran for cover 🤣. City officials changed the cite location after that incident....

That show was probably put on by Young Explosives, which is the main (only) fireworks company in the area. I never worked on the downtown 4th of July show because my father was in charge of the Henrietta show. I did do a few of the New Year's Eve shows downtown, but they were hard work because we had to build large wooden troughs, then fill them with dirt for the pipes because we shot from a bridge and the wind went right through you. I proposed to my wife at the York show. 

In terms of the coins you chose, I'd have to go with the Ptolemy III. That's an outstanding example. It completely blows away my more typical Ptolemy IV.

331A1188-Edit.jpg.ae49a230a936956cbc4c92aedcfc1452.jpg

Ptolemy IV Philopator
222-205/4 BCE
AE Drachm 41.4mm 66.2g
Alexandreia Mint
Obv: Head of Zeus-Ammon right, wearing tainia
Rev: Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, filleted cornucopia to left; LI between legs
Ref: Svoronos 1126

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